Editor’s Note: This is the last installation in a three-part series about students involved in UT’s Center for Students in Recovery — their paths to addiction and how they achieved sobriety. Read the first part of the series, Losing Control, and the second part, Hitting Bottom. Watch the interactive documentary.
Tucked away in the basement of the School of Social Work, dozens of students, alumni and community members meet to share stories and support each other in a fight for their lives.
They come from places of chemical addiction, years plagued with anxiety, failed relationships and abandoned dreams. At the Center for Students in Recovery, a self-funded program of University Health Services, they come together to work the 12 Step Program, make friends and reach out to other addicts.
Coordinator Ivana Grahovac, a five-and-a-half-year recovering heroin addict who earned a master’s degree in social work from the University of Michigan, said the center provides a refuge for students who need to escape the UT party scene that challenges their sobriety each day.
“Students meet here, they eat here, they sleep here during the day sometimes,” Grahovac said. “We have meetings here, and we share our strengths, experiences and hopes. It’s our little oasis.”
As Grahovac continues to stay clean and sober after overcoming an addiction that began when she was visiting her parents’ home country of Croatia and modeling in Milan in the early 2000s, she said the students she works with help keep her clean, and she tries to do the same for them.
“They absolutely transmitted such a positive strong energy that it kept me sober and alive going through this super intense transition from being a student in Michigan to being a professional in Texas,” said Grahovac, who started working at the 7-year-old center in March.
Many of the students at the center came to UT because they knew about the program, she said. UT is one of only 14 schools in the country with such a center. Others struggled with addiction while at the University and found a family at the center when they finally began recovery.
History senior Joseph King grew up with two alcoholic parents. Although his mother got sober when King was young, he said he saw his father drink every day. Once King started drinking in high school, he was constantly abusing alcohol. At UT, he joined Sigma Phi Epsilon because he said he wanted to be in an environment where friends and family wouldn’t question his daily drinking.
After passing out drunk and getting a serious head injury during his sophomore year, his parents sent him to a long-term treatment program in Colorado. At first, he said he was miserable.
“I was two-and-a-half months sober when I decided to finally work the steps and stop fighting everybody and everything that was telling me I was an alcoholic,” King said. “From there on, my life started to get better. I was able to enjoy life every day like I had never been able to when I was drinking.”
After King started treatment, his father, who asked The Daily Texan not to publish his name, began his own recovery process after decades as a functional alcoholic. Their parallel journeys have given both of them strength to stay sober, they said.
“Helping a son is a natural parental instinct, and our relationship became stronger and deeper,” King’s father said. “When I think about my sobriety, part of what I think of is that my son is doing it too. It’s a good thing for me, and I suspect it’s a good thing for him.”
Getting sober helped former and future UT student Chris Hubbert return to photography and regain stability after a five-year addiction to amphetamines, particularly Adderall, he said. He is currently on medical withdrawal from UT, but Hubbert continues to be involved with the center and said it provides a base of support as he continues to recover and allows him to give back to other recovering students.
“Being a sponsor [to another addict] is the most amazing part. As soon as I did that, being in recovery took on a whole new meaning,” Hubbert said. “The more [love] I give away, the more there is a fullness that I have in my chest that I’ve never had before in my life.”
Since May 2009, when Hubbert left school to start treatment after failing his sixth year, he has worked in a wine factory but said he is never tempted to start using again because of his success with the 12 steps.
“I’m around alcohol every day, I’ll break bottles and have wine all over me, and it’s not really a problem,” Hubbert said. “Through working the steps and working with a sponsor and sponsoring people myself, the obsession for me to want to use has gone away.”
A bright future awaits students at the center who are committed to their education and sobriety, Grahovac said. She said she will continue to support her students and help raise funds for the center with a coffee sale program called Grounds for Recovery, created with a donation from the family of Student Government President Scott Parks. UT System regent and recovering alcoholic Steve Hicks is helping Grahovac design an endowment program that would earn the center $500,000 over the next five years.
Hubbert is returning to UT in January to finish his degree and work as an apprentice under a photography professor. King said he’s not sure what he wants to do upon graduation, but he is taking life one day at a time and has found a new passion for running.
“About a year ago, I started running because I was bored, and I started really liking it,” King said. “I did a 10K and I wanted to do more because I’m an alcoholic, and when I like something I want to do more of it.”
On Saturday, King ran a marathon.